DES MOINES, Iowa --- Iowa would become the first state to reinstate the death penalty since New York in 1995 if legislation filed last week becomes law.

The abduction and slaying of 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins and her 10-year-old cousin Lyric Cook-Morrissey this summer in Evansdale gave capital punishment advocates the resolve to try, once again, to reintroduce it to Iowa where it was abolished in 1965.

Elizabeth's parents, Heather and Drew Collins, joined with conservative state Sen. Kent Sorenson, R-Milo, and the parents of other missing and murdered children at a pair of Statehouse news conferences announcing their intention to push for its reinstatement.

They also met with Gov. Terry Branstad, who indicated he would sign a bill that brought the death penalty back in limited circumstances.

But enthusiasm in both the House and the Senate seems muted at best. The majority Senate Democrats said there's no interest in the bill, and it won't make it to the floor for a vote. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, indicated it's not a top priority for the House if the Senate is not going to act.

"Discussion on the death penalty is taking place in the Senate. If they send a bill over, we're obviously going to take a look it," he said.

A trend

In 2007, New York abolished the death penalty again. Four other states --- Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey and Connecticut --- have since.

In all, 17 states have abolished the death penalty, and 33 have it, although it is used with varying degrees of frequency.

Kansas, for example, last executed an inmate in 1965, while the most recent execution in Texas occurred on Nov. 15, 2012. A woman, Kimberly McCarthy, was scheduled to die in Texas last week, but her execution was stayed until April.

A Pew Research poll released last year showed that 62 percent of Americans support the death penalty. That's less than the 78 percent who supported it in the mid-1990s, but much higher than the mid-1960s when less than 50 percent of Americans supported capital punishment, according to Pew.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said there are at least a dozen bills to reintroduce the death penalty in statehouses across the country, but he's skeptical any will be successful. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit doesn't advocate for or against capital punishment and tracks state-by-state data.

"The trend in recent years has been toward abolishing the death penalty," Dieter said. "The states that have abolished it do usually put in strict alternatives, like life without the possibility of parole. New York didn't have life without parole until they abolished (the death penalty)."

Greg Heartsill, a Republican from Melcher-Dallas, said he will push a bill in the Iowa House to reinstate the death penalty.

"I don't care about the trends. I'm not trendy," he said. "This is not just a matter of justice for the victims' families, it's about putting another tool in the toolbox of law enforcement, because the death penalty has been used as a huge bargaining chip."


Sorenson's bill would allow a death sentence in cases in which someone commits a murder and either first-degree kidnapping or first-degree sexual abuse, or both, against the same victim who is a minor.

He said he's keying on state Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, who is from the area where the cousins were abducted and killed as a potential ally to get traction in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Danielson said he has spoken to Sorenson about a bill that would set up a system notifying hunters when children go missing, but he's not interested in a capital punishment bill.

"My position is pretty clear: I'm morally opposed to capital punishment," he said "We have the death penalty in Iowa. It is if you commit a heinous crime, you go to jail and die there."

Meanwhile, the families of the victims say they're starting a grassroots effort to apply pressure to lawmakers.

Drew Collins said the families who are connected through the tragedy launched a Facebook group last week called "Enough is Enough" that supports reintroduction of the death penalty in Iowa. The Collinses' own web page, where they once posted reward amounts for information that led to the safe return of their daughter and niece, soon will host petitions to reintroduce the death penalty to Iowa. That web page can be found here at

"When we abolished the death penalty in 1965, there might have been more reason to believe there might be false convictions," Drew Collins said. "But now we have the technology to eliminate that. We have a 1965 law in 2013. It's time to change."

(11) comments


Drew, we may have a 1965 law in 2013, but I, for one, would not feel any different if my dads killer were executed. it won't bring him back and it won't make the pain go away. I get why you want it and I don't fault you, but I've had over 30 years to think about this. Honor Elizabeth's memory with love, not with something like this.


So I'm just curious DaddyTJ, are you for or against this bill?


I agree with DaddyTJ. I am morally opposed to the death penalty, regardless of forensic proof. Incarceration, with no possibility of parole, is sufficient. The death penalty has never been deterrent for crime. If that were the case Texas would not still be executing scores of people.
I am very sorry for your loss. I ask "what would Jesus do?" and execution never comes to mind.


It's so strange to me when the religious tout the death penalty as a solution. Do you follow your religious teachings or don't you? If you follow Jesus, you can't possibly support the death penalty. I wish more thought like you did, 50674.


DaddyTJ, gonna have to disagree with you on this one. I know that my family and I would have found some peace if our loved one's murderer had been put to death. The Collins family is doing what they feel is right, please let them.


Why? You kill them, and it's over. You incarcerate them for life, and they get punished longer -- I've never understood the desire to let the criminals get off with a shorter punishment.


I don't doubt their personal feelings. If my child was murdered, I shudder to think about how far I'd go. But that wouldn't be justice, it would be vengeance, and that isn't part of our code of law. It also isn't what the Collins' religion, which has been a big part of the story, asks of them. I don't blame them for feeling the way they do; I think most parents would, and I hope I never have to feel what they feel. But that doesn't mean it should be a law.


Let's use logic and rationality to determine our laws, not emotionally charged, grieving victims. These parents are the last ones who should determine a law, they are not thinking clearly and are letting their emotions cloud their judgment. We have a waiting period on marriages and firearm permits for the exact same reason -- emotionally charged people are not thinking rationally.


I feel for these families, I do. I want justice just as much as they do. But two very big facts need to be remembered. Innocent people have been killed and the death penalty is no deterrent to murder. No killer ever thinks if a state has or doesn't have a death penalty when they kill. That is not how the criminal mind works. A killer doesn't have a conscience so making a law that would make a sane person like you and I stop and say "I shouldn't do this" does no good. Proof is in the pudding to. Compare states that have a death penalty with states that don't like ours and what do you find? You find that there's a larger percentage of murder in those states than in ours.

The answer isn't the death penalty but rather prison reform. Prison needs to be tougher. Mandatory life sentences, a return to hard labor, and the end to any kinds of perks such as tv's, books, and all other forms of entertainment.


Yes, I'm very against the death penalty. I get why Drew and Heather want it, I can't fault them for it. As their friend, I understand. They lost their daughter and niece. Heather and Drew are amazing people and the strength they've found during this difficult time is inspirational, but I disagree wholeheartedly with the death penalty. There is nothing inspirational about that. The loss of these two girls and many others that came before them is tragic. It takes a special kind of evil to kill innocent children. They can do what they feel is right and I will do what I feel is right.

A short while ago, I was asked if I would petition with them (*note, I was not asked by them, but instead by someone else). The person who asked me is someone I have immense respect for who assumed I would jump on board with this. He was shocked when I said I could not, nor would ever petition for the death penalty. The death penalty does not make the pain go away. The pain will never go away, no matter how hard you try, it will always be there. Facts don't lie, the death penalty simply does not work. It does not deter crime.

I'd love to write more on this, but I fear it would take up too much space. I mean no disrespect to Drew, Heather, Adonnis Hill or anyone else, but my opinions mean no more or less than theirs, like I said, I've had over 30 years to think about this and there was a time when I would have sided with them. I'm pleased that I've gotten past the anger. I might also add, that the death penalty would not affect any of those fighting for it currently, nor will it stop things like this from happening in the future.

With Respect!


Well said, DaddyTJ.

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